Sunday, November 30, 2008

TRH Movie - Milk

On Thursday afternoon, Tara and I went to go see Milk. Ever since I watched the trailer a few months ago while my RRHB was on tour, it's been a film I've really looked forward to seeing. A biopic directed by Gus Van Sant, Milk depicts the life of Harvey Milk, the US's first openly gay man to be elected to political office. The way Van Sant chooses to tell the story, with Milk (Sean Penn) narrating a taped letter to be listened to should he lose his life, feels traditional, but it doesn't mean the movie itself ends up stereotypical. Jesse Wente was talking a little bit about this in his column on Friday.

On the eve of his 40th birthday, Harvey Milk and his younger lover, Scott Smith (James Franco, sigh.) decide to leave New York City for greener pastures. The pair land in San Francisco and set up a camera shop in the Castro district. Soon Milk's involved in all kinds of local politics, and he becomes a grassroots activist for the gay rights movement. He runs for office, once, twice, three times and loses until his campaign finally picks up steam (through hard work, dedication and the end of his relationship with Smith) and he wins. The newly appointed city supervisor makes a name for himself in the fight against Proposition 6 and wins there too. One of his opponents, a bitter, angry man named Dan White resigns, and then when he discovers exactly what it means to quit his position, returns to City Hall and shoots both Milk and the mayor, George Moscone.

The film, both poignant and patient at the same time, treats its subject matter with a deep sense of responsibility without ever falling into the earnest trap that normally plagues these pictures. The easiest reason for the film's success lies upon the shoulders of its impressive cast. Sean Penn excels as Harvey Milk and his is a fearless, thorough performance by an actor never ashamed to submerse himself into a challenging role. There's not a single mistep among the supporting cast of James Franco, Emile Hirsh, Josh Brolin, Alison Pill and Diego Luna. You can't help but come out of the theatre wondering about how the same state that worked so hard to defeat Prop 6 has now repealed Prop 8, and about how Milk's messages of hope, recruitment, honesty, all have echoes in Obama's ridiculously inspiring speeches. It's a political movie that carries a political message -- let's just hope that people continue to listen.

Now, let's talk Oscar
: Penn for Best Actor for sure, and a part of me hopes that Josh Brolin gets nominated for Best Supporting Actor and wins, just because he should.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

#66 - Brideshead Revisited

Sometimes, just sometimes, I fall so hard for a book that I would even consider myself a bit strange. It happened with Theft. It happened with Hunger. And now it's happened again with Evelyn Waugh's masterpiece, Brideshead Revisited. I love this book so much that I want to sleep with it under my pillow for weeks. I love this book so much that I wish it was alive so that I could kiss it.

Subtitled, "The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder," the novel opens up in the midst of the Second World War, as the book's protagonist (he of the subtitle) pauses before his company departs the position they've held for the last three months. As he says, "Here love had died between me and the army," setting up the aesthetic nature of his character, Charles Ryder is presented as a thinking man's soldier, from the upper classes, a man who fights more so because of the excitement than perhaps the duty. The new position his company takes up is at Brideshead, a castle that belongs to the Flyte family, a group of people who made an impossible impact on Charles's life.

As the novel moves backwards to tell the story of how he first came to Brideshead, Charles recounts his own glory days at Oxford with one of the sons, Sebastian. Charles falls hard for Sebastian, for his strange ways (and odd teddy bear) and falls equally hard for his family, his sister Julia in particular. As the novel progresses and the friendship is tested again and again because of Sebastian's drinking, their lives grow in different directions. Then, ten years pass, Charles is married, Julia is married, and yet they seem to pick up naturally where they left off, and it's this love affair that defines the rest of their lives.

I don't even really have the words to describe how lovely the prose remains throughout. How well-crafted the story is, how ingenious Waugh is when it comes to creating voice and character. The novel doesn't drag (it was better than TV this week, hands down) and it makes you want to dive into the imaginary pages and wear the clothes, live the unhappy lives and experience the world as these people for just a moment. Kate sent me a note this morning about how I shouldn't watch the movie version that recently came out -- instead, she said, I HAVE to watch the miniseries (which I just ordered as a treat to myself from Amazon). For so many, the most important theme in the novel is faith, and I won't argue that it is, the Flyte's are Catholic and the struggle to balance the idea of religion in a world that finds it increasingly irrelevant remains consistent throughout the novel. But, of course, being the incurable romantic, it was the love story, both the idea of the glorious friendships of youth and the affairs that forever change your life, that really held my attention. Just glorious.

READING CHALLENGES: Of course this book's on the 1001 Books list so I'm counting it as one of the books for that challenge.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I started reading Choke this morning on the subway. We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thinking Happy Thoughts

I am so tired lately. I say this a lot. I say this enough that my RRHB gets a bit annoyed but he never says so. He's a good man, that one. And I was chatting with a friend via email about how little I'm writing these days for myself and had to catch the tears before they actually fell. I think I'm still overwhelmed by what happened this fall. A little overworked. A lot exhausted. And I'm not sure how to fix it now that the snow is trampling down any thoughts of fall. So instead of wallowing in another "gloomy gus" post, I'm going to write up a "happy thoughts" top 10:

1. Remembering Paris. What a wonderful trip. And if I keep thinking about how much I love it there, the food, the architecture, the city, the food, the food, the food, that can carry me through a day of eating dumpy food court and 9-t0-5.

2. Reading the Classics. This week I haven't been able to put down Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. Last night I stopped watching television just so I could go to bed early and read more of it. I am totally behind in my work reading because of my various challenge books but they're so good that I'm actually not all that bothered. And I didn't even know there was a MOVIE version I could watch too.

3. Being a "Wooo" Girl. The episode of How I Met Your Mother where Lily and Robin were discussing the merits of being a "whoo" girl cracked me up. I am totally a "whoo" girl, so much so that it's even a little embarrassing at various rock shows after 1.5 beers.

4. Our House. Even though it's a little frustrating that the house isn't finished after four years, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. We now have our financing straightened out and will be able to put a big push on it over the next few months. That's a relief. Having the renovations be over would be a very good thing.

5. The Holidays. Despite feeling as though a vacation (an extended vacation!) would be a very good thing, I am really looking forward to the holidays. My father and stepmother will be "officially" tying the knot. We'll get to see all of our beloved family. We'll get to watch The Shawshank Redemption. We'll watch movies until all hours on New Year's Eve. I love that we have our own traditions now in this, our 10th anniversary month (December!)

6. My Friends. They'll go see bad movies with me. They'll take me out for lunch and/or dinner. They'll knit me slippers. They'll buy me sweet presents.

7. Twitter. I can't help it. I'm obsessed. Life in 140 characters = awesome.

8. Meeting Authors. It's always inspiring. Yesterday I had the pure pleasure of spending about an hour with Lawrence Hill. He's amazingly kind, well spoken and utterly lovely.

9. Losing Weight. The 18-pound challenge is going exceptionally well. I'm totally off the meds and the pounds are dropping off (just as we suspected they would). I'm down 1.5 dress sizes (all of my clothes are too big) and it's great. I wish I could say that I notice a difference but I don't really except for the fact that all my pants fall down without a belt. Yippee!

10. Deep Breaths. Restorative yoga on Friday nights has been a little oasis in my week. I've got a work event this week so I'll miss out but six weeks for $100 -- amazing.

See, it's not that bad when you take it half-full instead of half-empty, right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

State Of Fear

It's been no secret that I've been feeling under the weather for weeks now. It's funny, I can usually pinpoint the exact moment of when it all started to go wrong, and this time around it was the second week of September when my mom passed away. I think trying to hold it all together might have done me in and for the last few weeks I've been having disease symptoms. Symptoms that can also be explained by other causes: a fall down the subway stairs, yoga after a year away, terrible shoes, all could be the reason for my joint pain. The cold that simply refuses to die could be the reason why my sinuses are so besieged at the moment. The exhaustion from a very busy life and the time change could be causing the sluggish, always-tired feelings that I wake up with every single morning. But I can't say that I'm not worried. I can't say that I'm not totally freaked out that in the few months I've been off the needle that the disease has reared its ugly head. I'm just trying not to totally panic and make it even worse. Cross your fingers for me.

TRH Dance - Dis/(sol/ve)r

The Toronto Dance Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary this season. To mark the occasion, Christopher House has choreographed a new piece, Dis/(sol/ve)r. I had the pleasure (and utter treat) of seeing the company perform the new piece on Saturday night.

Two Sundays ago, after visiting with a very dear friend (whom I've known since we were three), my girlfriend Amanda and I were driving back home. We danced together for all of our high school years, and have known one another since grade school. She's still in the business, teaching, choreographing, learning, despite her own health issues. The tragic hip pretty much put the nail in my dancing coffin years ago, but I've been recreational with it for a while. It was Amanda's suggestion that I come along with she and her husband to this particular show. Seeing as I've been taking classes on and off at the School of the Toronto Dance Theatre, I thought maybe it would be a good idea to catch an actual performance. Wow, was I ever surprised.

The piece was gorgeous. Lasting about an hour from beginning to end, it flowed in and out of representations of modern life, of men dressed in suits, of women in pretty dresses, of relationships as they collapse and morph into something else. The company, which numbered nine dancers, came together, coupled on stage, and fell into some absolutely gorgeous movement as they explored the piece's premise. My favourite moments include the opening pas de deux, with two men, one towering over the other as he holds out his hand continuously out of reach, the first full company movement where they almost floated on stage as they moved in and out of different configurations and a particularly vivid coupling that left one dancer, ahem, putting herself back together at its end.

Phil Strong's original music was luxurious and seemingly effortless in how it matched the piece. If it was for sale, I think I would have purchased it on the spot -- I enjoyed it that much. And the set, oh, the set, it was just so beautiful, long, flowing pieces of these gorgeously muted silk fabrics, draped and almost billowing at the edges of the stage. I didn't want the performance to end. The hour flew by. I didn't yawn. I didn't nod off (as I am wont to do during some ballet performances; I love it, but still, it's hot and stuffy in there sometimes). And when I was finished I clapped long and hard.

TRH Movie - Twilight & Let the Right One In

We were seeing red this weekend in more ways than one, blood red. Seems that vampires got their teeth into me over the past few days. Between two movies and the end of True Blood this weekend, I'm a bit vamped out.

On Saturday my RRHB and I went to the new AMC theatres at Dundas Square to see the Swedish film Let the Right One In. He's been angling for us to see this picture for a few weeks now and we finally had the time. Usually, my RRHB says he wants to see a scary picture and I ask him which of his friends he'd like to take with him. I am glad, however, that I agreed to go with him because it's one of the best films I've seen all year.

Oskar is having a hard time at school. He's being bullied and when the picture opens up we see him in all his adolescent glory playing around with a knife in his bedroom. When he meets odd and definitely awkward Eli in the courtyard of their Stockholm apartment building, the two bond over a Rubik's Cube. She's not wearing a coat. And she's not cold. As their friendship progresses, two things happen: the bullying gets worse and Eli's strange behaviour leads Oskar to think she's a vampire.

The moments of actual horror are few and far between. What the film presents instead is a stark yet vivid picture of the emerging relationship between these two oddly matched friends. Eli needs a human to care for her; Oskar needs someone to help him stand up to the bullies. The deep, dark winter becomes a perfect backdrop, and the grey, painfully cold scenes project the loneliness that both leads must feel on an almost daily basis. There was little backstory and a lot of nuance. The film expects intelligence of its viewer and refuses to lay anything out for you. It's a simple, well-told story that has elements of the supernatural that only add to the emotional depth versus bashing you over the head with it.

Let's take note of that last point as we begin to talk about Twilight. Zesty and I had planned to go to the movies anyway this weekend because my RRHB was supposed to be away for most of it (a giant snowstorm and a cancelled show meant he was home more than away). We decided to go see Twilight hoping for a decent dose of cheese wrapped up in a pretty package. In many ways, that's exactly what we ended up with -- both movies feature odd human-vampire relationships, but that's about where the similarities end.

Twilight, based on Stephanie Meyer's grossly bestselling YA novels, features an "average" girl named Bella who moves from Arizona to Forks, Washington (the rainiest spot in the whole north-east) when her mother goes on the road with her new husband. Moving in with her father, the town's sheriff, brings a whole world of awkward: surprisingly quiet diner meals, odd protective overtones, and strangely stilted conversations. In short, all that you'd expect for a child of divorce heading to live with the absent parent. Life at a new school is hard, but Bella makes friends, not the least of which is the odd attraction (at first repulsion) to Edward Cullen, the hottest boy in school who's got a whopper of a secret. Yes, you guessed, Edward and his siblings are all vampires, and Edward is simply unable to resist Bella's scent any longer. The pair enters into a definitely doomed love affair that puts both of their lives in danger.

(Yawn).

There are so many things wrong with the film that it would be impossible to list them all. Knowing that the source material was tepid to begin with, at least the script improved upon Meyer's (and I only read the first few pages of this book because the writing was just so very bad and not for me) cliched and clunky prose. The two leads, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison, did well with what they were given, but the film falls so flat that it's hard to care about anything that happens. First off, vampires that sparkle and can walk around in the daylight (but not the sunlight)? Vampires that continue to go to school because they're "vegetarians" and only drink animal blood (why not home school, just a thought?)? And a really silly human who can a) figure out all the clues that Edward's a vampire but not think twice about getting herself tricked into a sticky situation that could cause her death? Double yawn.

I think what I wanted was something like the first season of One Tree Hill meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Instead, what we get is a barely plausible sub-par romance that uses the supernatural elements to hype up the whole "forbidden" love theme that runs through it. Bella is hardly a character I would have stand up for girls that age. She drops her entire life for a boy without even thinking twice. She never stands up for herself (unless it's to say that she never EVER wants to be apart from Edward, like, ever!!!). Never protects herself. Often walks into dangerous situations without even having any kind of spidey sense tingling and is, in short, lame. I am barely the millionth person to point this out, though.

Also, the movie needed to be better directed. The film's pace was all wonky -- it didn't hit any kind of reliable beats, and only when the action picked up did it hum. The art direction was lovely, and the setting quite gorgeous, but the makeup was atrocious (all the vampires looked like silent film stars plopped into live action colour) as were the many "montages" and flashbacks. In this sense, it might just be my own personal preference, but Hardwicke really doesn't know how to work with actors -- way back in the day, I had to review her earlier picture Lords of Dogtown. She managed to take a group of highly exceptional actors, all of whom excelled in other productions, and create hambones of them all. Here, something eerily similar happened, and it's as if Hardwicke's never met a moment of melodrama she didn't absolutely adore. But whatevs. No one's going to care about my criticisms of Twilight. Teen girls are going to flock to the multiplex, banter on about how delicious the books are, and continue to *gasp* when Edward appears on screen. For that, bless them.

But for anyone actually looking to see a seriously good film, please go and accept the subtitles of Let the Right One In. At least that vampire makes sense to me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

#65 - Oryx and Crake

When I first started reading Oryx and Crake about five years ago, I was still working for the evil empire and being bullied by the Boss From Hell. It seems that misery in real life isn't a good bed fellow for post-apocalyptic fiction, so I never made it past the first chapter. Enter the 2008 Canadian Book Challenge and the need to clear out my reading shelves. I cleared off my shelves by creating the For the Ladies series for this year. And after reading Blindness and Hunger, why not throw in a little speculative Canadian fiction?

Atwood's story takes place in the not-so distant future when all of human society is split up and defined by different sets of walls. The chosen few, the scientists, the gene-splitters, the evolutionary experts, work in compounds for huge companies cloning and creating new animals, new foods, new drugs that are then sent out into the pleeblands where society is less evolved. Fast forward to the years after some sort of disaster (that's explained throughout the narrative) has almost wiped out the entire human race save for quasi humans called Crakers, and Snowman, the one charged with taking care of them.

Jimmy aka "Snowman" lives in a tree, scavenges the detrius for food, gets loaded as often as possible, and posits all kinds of pseudo-philosophy into the heads of the children of Crake. Crake, a brilliant if not utterly misguided scientist, was Jimmy's best friend growing up. Oryx, also of the book's title, was a young girl they first discovered on the internet after she held their budding sexual attention. She was someone neither Jimmy nor Crake could never forget. One of those people who wraps themselves around your mind and refuses to leave -- no matter what the cost.

As Snowman's supplies dwindle, he knows he needs to venture out and away from his safe zone, his tree in the park where the people of Crake live, back to the compound to pillage for more supplies. As he sets out on this journey, the story unfolds: how he got there, what happened to the world, what his life is like now with no other true human contact. The narrative as inventive as it is compelling, feels not unlike Atwood's first novel, The Edible Woman (in ways). Jimmy's a bit of a misfit, he likes words, he works in advertising, all things that sort of make him comparable to Elaine. Although in her world, she rebels against (am I remembering this correctly?) all of the pressure put upon her by turning it inside and then by literally eating herself (oh, that cake!). Here, Jimmy's problems, his difficult relationship with his parents, his own mediocrity, and his love for Oryx, all manifest themselves in a true-to-life horror show. How come he still can't let it go when the entire world has collapsed in front of him? Why does he continually play the loop of his life in his mind? What makes his story important?

The answers to all of the questions are woven through the narrative and the telling of them isn't remotely disappointing. I have to say that I enjoyed this novel by Margaret Atwood more so than any of her work I've read in ages (Alias Grace and Surfacing are my other favs). It makes me wonder what took me so long to get back to it. And what I really enjoyed about the book was its imaginary elements. The pigoons and the rakunks. The social experiments. The ways in which Atwood extrapolates the world is heading. Frightening, yes. But also really addictive in terms of interspersing it with the more traditional parts of the narrative. Maybe we'll all end up eating 100% soyo products with pet rakunks in the next 10 years. Maybe we'll suffer through daily storms and live in the pleeblands. Who knows. But it sure makes for good reading.

READING CHALLENGES: My sixth book in this year's Canadian Book Challenge!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Goodness

A whole week has gone by and I haven't said a word. I haven't done much after work this week except do more work (freelance, freelance, freelance) and all I've been reading are Harlequin novels (which will add about 20 books to my end of year tally only I won't be reviewing them). We haven't gone to see any movies and last weekend dealt with a disaster at the cottage (broken pipes and way too much water). I visited some old friends (and caught up with their lives with loads of hugs). This weekend I'm going to see Twilight (of course I am!) even if I continue to refuse to read the book. My RRHB is off again on tour (just for four days). And we're celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Toronto Dance Theatre. In addition to more work on Saturday and Sunday, I think I'm going to try to do some holiday shopping to beat the rush. And finally finish Oryx and Crake. Mainly, though, I really just need a rest. Life seems to be passing me by these days at a breathtaking pace.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

#64 - Blindness

Over the past few weeks, I've been reading interesting but somewhat bleak fiction. I'm halfway through Oryx and Crake, devoured Hunger and just finished Jose Saramago's Blindness this morning. All three novels deal very strongly with how absence has an effect upon human society. Represented in the protagonist in Hunger, represented in the landscape in Oryx and Crake, and represented in the society's blindness in Saramago's brilliant novel. Why do novels about absence work so well? It's an easy question to answer: because they force the writer to observe, and observation is always at its sharpest when there's some sort of tragedy or trauma forcing it forward.

Like in Hunger, the characters in Saramago's book are not overtly named but referred to by description: "the first blind man," "his wife," "the doctor," "the doctor's wife," "the girl with the dark glasses" (even if she's not wearing them), etc. In a way it makes the plight, an epidemic that causes blindness throughout an entire city (or country), more poignant; it hits everyone and anyone. That is, with the exception of the doctor's wife, who retains her sight even when the rest of the world has gone blind. The opening scenes of the novel are pitch perfect: a man alone in his car in traffic suddenly goes blind -- a form of white blindness (instead of seeing darkness those affected see nothing but white) that spreads like wild fire throughout the population.

Those first individuals who "catch" the virus are quarantined and suffer through a hellish situation as more and more people arrive who suffer from the same plight. The novel doesn't shy away from its central theme: when humans are pushed away from civilization they will act abominably. That's not to say that the core group the novel remains centred around -- the first residents quarantined after becoming infected -- don't act decently. They do and continue to do so regardless of their increasingly difficult circumstances. But they come across nefarious and despicable people as they try to survive the decimation of their society.

I'm not sure if it's the translation, but Saramago's writing style reminds me of Marquez. He writes long, luxurious sentences that examine every aspect of the situation. The allegory (if I'm using that word correctly) of the story almost keenly ascribes the defeat of human society when faced with this kind of categorical tragedy. Old philosophical debates of the essence of the human soul, whether it's good or evil, are apt in terms of thinking about this book, and that's probably why I enjoyed it so very much.

But before I sign off, here's an example of how Saramago's keen observations bleed into every inch of the novel:
Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and, suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them come irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say.
READING CHALLENGES: Jose Saramago was born in Portugal so this novel counts toward the Around the World in 52 Books challenge that has been woefully under represented in my reading this year. There's no way I'll catch up now so I'm guessing I'll give up sooner rather than later.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Finishing Oryx and Crake and Brideshead Revisited (more 1001 Books!).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

TRH Movie - Changeling

Last night Fionna and I went to go see Changeling after having a pit stop at the Bloor Street Diner (very helpful in letting you get to the movie on time). First off, after cancelling (or not renewing) my EW subscription because I'm trying to be more fiscally responsible (and the redesign sucked; and I don't ever care about the Jonas Brothers) and I get plenty of magazines through work, I feel very left out of the whole pop culture world. So when I saw the trailers for this film I sort of thought that there was a supernatural element to the film -- you know, because it's called Changeling. But there's not, and because I don't want to give away the gist of the film, I'll just leave that observation at that.

Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother living in the 1920s in Los Angeles. She works for a telegraph / telephone company. She raises her son, Walter. She gives sage advice: "Never start a fight but always finish them." And explains that her husband left after opening up a big box of responsibility he just wasn't prepared to face. Torn between her responsibility at work and spending the day with her son, who is her whole world, Christine goes into work one day only to discover upon her return home that her son's missing. The police are called. Weeks go by and then he's returned to her in a glorious (and heavily photographed moment) by the L.A.P.D.

Only there's just one catch: he's not her son. He's three inches sorter and antatomically, ahem, different in many, many ways. And the more the police want her to say that it's her son, the more she resists. She kicks up just enough fuss that the missing children chief simply tosses her into the looney bin because she won't play along. Shocking, abhorrent, and utterly upsetting, despite her treatment in the hospital, she refuses all along to sign a paper saying that the boy the police returned was indeed her son.

It's a complex, long film that not only addresses the mistakes the police made with respect to her case, but also the legal and sociological ramifications of their actions. Jolie's excellent, but she usually is, and her role in this reminds me a lot of A Mighty Heart rather than her more kick-ass-type characters. All in all there's just something about a Clint Eastwood picture: they're a little bit too long but they never drag; he elicits strong performances from his actors, especially the ladies; and they just seem to wholly embody the time and place they're representing. The art direction, the costumes, the general tone of speech -- were all pitch-perfect.

Honestly, I enjoyed this picture so much more than I thought I would. Kind of like Pride and Glory. Huh, eh?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oh, To Remember

Quite a few years ago now, I was living up at Yonge and Eglinton, my least favourite neighbourhood in the city, in an awful city-run apartment building with cockroaches and crazies. The rent was cheap. The commute was easy. I was also working in the financial industry and trying like mad to get some of my writing published so that I could simply call myself something other than a "customer service representative."

My brother often stayed in the tiny apartment that I shared with another girl (keep in mind it was a bachelor; I don't know how we all fit) because he was going to school in Toronto at the time and living in Markham. We were up late one night talking about war and Robyn said, "I don't believe in war," or something of the like. My brother turned to her and said that if it wasn't for the Second World War he wouldn't be here at all -- and that's just the plain truth of the matter.

My maternal grandfather fought, as his father had in the First World War, for the Allies. He met my grandmother in London, where she was born and raised, and they married even before the war had finished. I have copies of their letters to his parents and they are gorgeous. Full of the first blush of love and the kind of happiness that comes just after one gets married, the letters are a wonderful time capsule of their lives. Yet, they're also so representative of the spirit of the times; I think, at one point, my grandfather writes, "In case you haven't noticed, we're fighting a war over here..." to his father. Young men in uniform and young women fighting beyond the homefront. Lives forever changed and generations existing simply because these young men and women were brave enough to make the sacrifice.

Living through a war, I would imagine, is not something one easily forgets. For years my grandmother did not waste anything. She washed and bent the tin cans so they could be easier reused. She made our clothes. She gave me cups of tea and a half an aspirin if I was feeling poorly. But she never really talked about the war. And because she died before I knew enough about the history to ask, I read her letters and feel as though I know her better. I miss her every day. So now when I listen to the pipers on Remembrance Day, I think of all of my relatives here in Canada and abroad who made it possible for me to type these very words you've just finished reading. Lest we forget.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Ridiculous To The Sublime

I'm a little foggy-headed this morning so in between fiddling with HTML code for work, I surfed the rounds and discovered:

1. I am usually the last to see these things. That doesn't make them any less disturbing (totally NSFW).

2. Like so many people in the world, I celebrated the results of the US election. But this picture / piece of art grabbed my attention because when you see so clearly the stunning truth of history in the making it's really quite incredible.

Now I'm going back to my code.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

TRH Movie - Pride and Glory

Not feeling happy with my own company yesterday, I needed to get out of the house. Feeling suburban and kind of exhausted, I drove myself out to the Queensway cinema to see Pride and Glory (sometimes you can take the girl out of Mississauga but you can't always take Mississauga out of the girl). From the tagline and trailer you'd expect a fairly typical good cop vs. bad cop drama set on the gritty streets of NYC, and that's pretty much what you get, but the script is good (save for a couple of quasi-lame, quite derivative sub-plots; tell me, why do all abandoned their "difficult" marriages cops end up living on boats?) and so are the performances.

Ed Norton wears a jagged scar on his cheek and a clean cut "cop" goatee. He's a very serious detective who made a bad judgment call a ways back and now atones for that sin toiling his time away in Missing Persons. The entire 31 division (is that right?) is playing a football game when the call comes in that there's been a terrible incident in Washington Heights that's left four cops dead. Pulled back into mainstream cop life by his high-up cop father (Jon Voight), Ray Tierney (Norton) joins the task force and starts pulling down the cards supporting the "house" and revealing some pretty crooked business. The trouble? His brother, Francis (Noah Emmerich), is the CO and any wrong doing will end up stacked high on his shoulders. Toss in the fact that the trouble is somewhat caused by his brother-in-law (Colin Farrell) and suddenly this the "blue family" of cops now has bloodlines and baby sisters and all kinds of other sibling rivalry to cope with on top of the usual ideals of loyalty.

See, when I spell it out like that it all comes across as a little cliche, but the film itself is pretty good. It's not an over-bloated epic like last year's We Own the Night but it's certainly not as complex and intriguing as The Departed. Yet, I liked the movie because the performances were honest, Norton and Emmerich play brothers, and while a lot of the action may be stereotypical, neither give a performance where they're "playing" cops, if you get my meaning. There's a particularly poignant scene where Emmerich simply stands up to become the kind of man his wife expects of him (she's sick; you know where that's headed and where it's came from; there's nothing new there) and it's subtle, effective and somewhat moving. On the whole, it's a solid picture, exactly what you'd expect from those involved.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

#63 - Hunger

In my last post about the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, I was full of resentment over having slogged my way through American Pastoral. With Knut Hamsun's Hunger, I've now forgiven the list. As the unnamed protagonist wanders around Christiania (Oslo) starving and half-mad, he narrates the decline of both his physical and mental states. Hunger is a striking, captivating novel that feels utterly modern in its conception with echoes of the stream of conscious-type narratives that I am ever-so fond of reading.

Originally published in 1890, the struggles of the writer to simply live, to find a warm, dry place to sleep, to keep his body protected, to find food to satiate the most basic of the body's expectations, seem beyond him for many reasons. He has no money because he hasn't sold an article (he has sold many articles to the pawnbroker, though). He's been evicted because he can't pay the rent. His appearance deteriorates as the novel continues leaving bits and pieces of his hair all over the city (it's always falling out!). While respite comes throughout the book in various different places, the overall suffering and consistent starvation of the narrator, his awful living conditions, and the fact that at one point he resorts to sucking on wood chips ensures that he never really comes through the other side.

In a life where a few pennies (ΓΈres?) would make a world of difference, the writer clings to a sense of his own morality. He refuses to steal any food for survival. He pays back his debts (even if it means he'll starve once again). He believes entirely in the value of his written words if only he could get his mind to work. He simply never asks for help. Then, driven to the brink of madness, the writer finally sacrifices his freedom for survival, and it's a bittersweet moment.

Hamsun won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920, and from what I can discern from the biography in the back of the book, his own struggles to make a living from his work inspired aspects of Hunger. The author's strength of character comes through (sitting atop a train after being diagnosed with tuberculosis and breathing in as much air as humanly possible) both in terms of the power within this novel but also in his personal story. Balancing out the basic needs of life with the kind of hard work the narrator resigns himself to just in order to survive, the entire book feels like a testament to the kind of men who value ideals of strength in character above all else. All in all, it's a magnificent book. One that I would have never discovered had I not embarked upon the whole 1001 Books Challenge in the first place.

READING CHALLENGES: Killing two challenges with one book: Norway for Around the World in 52 Books and another 1001 Books title.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: My second-hand copy underneath my 1001 text, which has a far superior jacket image.